From cushy seat designs and sumptuous dining services to a hotel room-like experience up in the air, the race among airlines to provide the finest features available, especially in its premium-class cabins, is one that seemingly knows no end. But while the types of in-flight luxuries continue to multiply, a new dawn may be arriving in economy cabins for better or for worse as top carriers in the U.S. start adding a new class called “basic economy”, also known as “last class” to many others.
Delta Air Lines became the first carrier to experiment with the service as early as 2012, and in 2015 launched a refined version of it. With Delta’s basic economy class, passengers, for one, will lose their right to pick a seat in advance, neither will they be able to change their travel dates once a reservation has been made. Complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages will still be available, however, as will other amenities such as in-flight Wi-Fi access. Following in Delta’s food steps, United Airlines and American Airlines have also mentioned plans of launching a similar service this year, although details to what their basic economy fare may entail remains elusive to date.
To many, the move is seen as an effort by airlines to compete with much-lamented but profitable budget airlines in the country such as Spirit and Frontier, where seats are cheap, but everything else—from water, an overhead luggage space, down to a paper copy of your boarding pass printed at the airport—comes with a price. But to some, as The Economist pointed out in a recent article, the basic economy option is deemed no more than just a strategy to “make basic economy so unpleasant” and have passengers spend on an upgrade to standard economy.
A Huffington Post article in December, however, seems to think the idea is not as bad as claimed. “‘Last class tickets eliminate perks that you weren’t going to use anyway,” it says, the first of three reasons listed in the article in defense of basic economy. Another point argues that flying a major airline—with in-flight entertainment and snacks and drinks available by default—is worth choosing basic economy over regular low-cost carriers, where seats are generally not as comfortable and food and beverages are not given away for free.
While the argument—in defense or against basic economy—is sure to continue, the fact remains that low-budget airline seats are in high demand. By launching basic economy fares, airlines seem to be responding to travelers by raising the question “do you mind?”, and for many, middle seat in the back row be damned, the answer is simply “not at all.”